When he thinks about last year’s national championship game against Alabama, Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware gets a little more than just mad.
“It has been pissing me off for a year,” he said.
It does not help that when he walked into practice on Wednesday, and every other day he has gone into the indoor practice facility for the last year, he sees a large banner that reads “2015 National Runner-ups.”
“I think it has pissed the rest of our team off, especially our defense,” Boulware said.
The Clemson defense gets mad seeing it because it reminds them of how bad they played, especially in the crucial moments of last year’s 45-40 loss to Alabama. The Tigers owned a 24-21 lead on ‘Bama going into the fourth quarter, but allowed the Crimson Tide offense to score 17 of the their 24 fourth-quarter points and 188 of their 473 total yards in the last 15 minutes.
“Going out their last year and playing like crap and losing that game for us, and seeing that every day. Thinking about it pisses me off,” Boulware said. “You kind of piss me off bringing it up so I’m kind of pissed off. There is a lot of pissed off (people) around here.”
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney is glad the banner has motivated his team this season to get back to the national championship game for a second straight year, but he says that was not the intent of the banner.
“I hung it up as a meaning of celebration. Heck, 120-something teams, that’s a big deal to get to the national championship and should be honored,” Swinney said. “But we want to finish. That’s just the bottom line. This is what you dream about, to coach in games like this and play in games like this.”
Defensive end Christian Wilkins said losing in the national championship game against the model program in college football, when they were so close to winning the game, was a hard pill to swallow. He said, like Boulware, it was even harder for the defensive players to accept because of how poorly they played in the fourth quarter when the team needed them the most.
“The defense allowed a lot of plays,” he said. “The offense did their part, but we had a lot of mental breakdowns. If we had just prevented one or two of them we could have been national champions last year. So obviously, it was really tough to deal with because as a competitor, you want to achieve everything you possibly could achieve.
“You want to beat the best and we were not able to do that last year.”
So instead, Wilkins, Boulware and the rest of the defense has been reminded about that game every day in practice for the last 365 days. On Monday, at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium, they’ll have an opportunity to make amends against the same opponent in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game.
“Everybody on our defense, and our team, wants to get a new banner up there,” Boulware said.
—Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports